Unity Create SVP & MD Marc Whitten on latest Unity Gaming Report

Unity has just released its 2023 Gaming Report, which highlights five key trends “shaping the industry”. Its conclusions are based on usage and survey data relating to 2022 that’s been collected from more 230,000 users of the Unity development platform, with additional data compiled from 423,000 developers across all platforms. 

The highlighted trends are:

  1. Indies are shipping games quickly and developers are working fewer hours, with 62% of indies shipping games in less than a year.
  2. Studios are starting more mobile-only games compared to 2021, with large studios seeing a 44% increase in mobile-only production.
  3. Large studios released 16% more multiplatform games than in 2021, while indies moved towards a single-platform strategy.
  4. More people are playing mobile games than in 2021.
  5. Studios are extending game lifespans year over year, extending the lifespan of existing mobile games by 33% and seeing higher player retention rates.

In an effort to gain some insight on the report, we sat down with Unity Create SVP and MD Marc Whiiten. Here’s what he had to say.

Of the five trends highlighted in the report, which is the most significant?

What I think the report shows is a general resiliency in gaming. When you look at the trends and you see more games being shipped and more players playing, I think those really underscore the fact that as humans, we like playing games and therefore there continues to be a lot of strings in figuring out how to create great game experiences for players.

Did any of the trends surprise you?

Probably the one that surprised me the most was this idea, especially in some of the smaller studios and indies, that game creators are spending less time shipping a game. Obviously, that’s encouraging; seeing people create a game and being able to do it while having more personal time was pretty interesting to see.

That’s an interesting one because the trend for making AAA games is seemingly in the opposite direction. That being the case, is there an opportunity for more AA games to exist?

Some of these trends are related. Like when you see that smaller studios and indies are more likely to be focusing on one platform, that’s about making a choice so that they can focus their efforts. When you see both the larger studio and smaller studio people starting with more packages and assets to get to the fun faster before they iterate to create the game that they want; I think that’s about making a choice, so that they can really focus on what matters for them and for their particular players. But I also do believe that AA or midsize studios making interesting games – actually, even on the small side – is only on the uptrend. Look at Sons of the Forest as an example; it’s not a huge studio. It’s an extraordinary game.

How do you explain the second trend; the 44% increase in the number of large studios making mobile games?

The largest number of players on the planet is certainly on mobile, and so it continues to be the thing that everyone has to focus on. But there’s another thing here, which is that players more and more belong to the community of their game. Regardless of what other screens you might be considering for a game, you need to make sure that that game is going to exist on mobile in a meaningful way that’s going to work for them because they’re gonna want to have an opportunity to play and participate on mobile just like they do on other screens. 

Where you see the lifespan of games increasing, it seems to be the case that those tend to be more casual and hypercasual games rather than what we might call hardcore games?

On the casual side, I think you’re seeing that game creators are just getting a lot more sophisticated at understanding how to manage the long term engagement of those particular games. But I also think you’re seeing it across all game categories. Gaming is a very mature space. It’s resilient, it’s growing, but it’s hard to break through with a new game. So, if you do have a game that reaches some level of resonance, obviously you have an extremely high incentive to continue to derive value out of that, because it’s a lot easier in many ways to maintain that than it is to get your next hit, which comes with a lot of uncertainty. 

How does this report stack with previous years – what long term trends do you recognise?

I think the one we’ve just been talking about, the kind of “live-ness” of every game that started as a conversation around multiplayer a couple of years ago and has continued into the types of ways that people drive engagement.

The other one we haven’t talked about is the ongoing maturation of the tool chain around things like DevOps; people using more powerful and game-bespoke tooling in order to drive their own productivity, which is particularly important. As the world has moved to work from home and a hybrid environment, having tools that allow a team of people to manage their builds and to collaborate with each other, regardless of where everybody is, is way more important than it ever was before. Not only are the tools getting better around that, but you’re seeing a lot of adoption of those tools with game creators.

There wasn’t too much mentioned in the report in terms of emerging and reemerging technologies. Was there any data to allow for the recognition of trends in areas like VR, the metaverse, blockchain and the like?

I think one thing that you’re certainly going to see in next year’s report – I’ll say this without any work being done on that report, obviously – is the rise of things like AI. It’s clear that we’re at this kind of Cambrian explosion of new techniques, both at the top level where professional artists are starting to have access to new tools that reinvent their workflows, and, as that goes down into prosumer, technology that allows people to maybe invent content that they might not have actually had before. So I think those things are gonna have a huge impact on the game tooling, games, and workflows around gaming in the years to come. 

In terms of an increase in the use of “off the shelf” assets, do you see that accelerating because of AI?

The trend that was in this particular report is just about many of the things that we’ve seen for a while – like you go to the asset store, you use a set of packages before you’re ready to design your own so you can work on the game loop. But, when you start to imagine what the next level looks like, you can start truly adding in variation, by being able to use AI tools to add to either your assets or the assets you get from the asset store. It’s going to increase your usage.

The other thing that goes with that is the technology of AI to take your work and get it further along. If you look at the work that we do with Ziva, you can take a mesh and, instead of having a team of artists spend months to rig that mesh so that you can animate it in real time in a game, you upload it and the AI model will train it in five minutes to be riggable against tens of thousands of different emotions and all of those sorts of things that can be driven in real time. So, AI as an accelerant to get the productivity that you need, I think, is also going to be a pretty key trend.

About Richie Shoemaker

Prior to taking the editorial helm of MCV/DEVELOP Richie spent 20 years shovelling word-coal into the engines of numerous gaming magazines and websites, many of which are now lost beneath the churning waves of progress. If not already obvious, he is partial to the odd nautical metaphor.

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